Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Category: N.T. Wright (page 1 of 2)

Love in the face of terror

”We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…Bomb our places of gathering and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Drive into our crowds at busy markets and stab anyone in the way, shoot up people in our cinemas with your automatic weapons, and we will still love you. Send your messages of fear and hatred around the world, and we will still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

 – Paraphrasing Martin Luther King

No one should have to bury their own child. As I think of what happened in Manchester recently, and in London this week, and in Kabul last week (which you probably didn’t hear about because it wasn’t all over social media and mainstream media), I feel for the mothers of children who have died and who have to organise another funeral for a loved one. What the parents of those sweet young children have to go through when they identify bodies and grieve over innocence just cannot be comprehended.

As we wake up to more news of terror attacks, I am more convinced than ever that love is the only force that can truly make a difference. I am inspired by the words of Martin Luther King and his unshakable conviction about the power and influence of love in the face of tragedy.

The shock we feel when we hear of cowardly attacks like those in Manchester, Kabul and London can be overwhelming. Anger runs high, along with the disbelief. It all rings too close to home for most of us. We know it could have been us. So a natural and understandable response is to lash out and want to hit back and wipe out the bastards who took away our loved ones. What I am convinced of though is that there is no solution in that way of responding. As Dr King said, hate begets hate and violence begets violence. As long as political leaders keep calling for Muslim bans, make billion dollar deals with governments with shady links to terrorists (as the US did last week), and we keep bombing the crap out of Muslim countries, of course the problem is not going to end.

This boils down to what sort of society we want. If we destroy the terrorists, we don’t destroy terror, because more will come up and take their place. And by destroying the terrorists we stoop to their level. As Gandhi said, an eye for an eye just leaves everybody blind. 

So I am more convinced than ever that love is the only way. Many say that love is weakness and hopelessly idealistic, especially in the area of international terrorism. For a world in which violent thinking is so ingrained, love is indeed weakness. But it is the only option we have if we want an enlightened society.

As the great powers of the world advocate bombing the terrorists into submission, love quietly goes about its work, converting enemies into friends and thereby defeating its enemies. Abraham Lincoln, a President who really did make America great, said that.

Love absorbs suffering and thereby defeats it. That is what Jesus did on the cross. An innocent man, violently put to death, did not strike out violently in revenge against his oppressors . He took the suffering upon himself and exposed it for what it was. And thousands of Christians in the first century did the same, following in the footsteps of their Master.

As people live out the virtue of love, many suffer and even die. That is what Jesus meant in the first century context when he talked about taking up your cross. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, when Jesus tells someone to take up their cross, he bids them come and die. Bonhoeffer would know. He did exactly that. He did it because his hope was in a better day, a far country that was coming, a day when love will have finally won the victory. Death now had no sting for people like Bonhoeffer. It was impotent in the face of love.

N.T. Wright talks about this hope using the analogy of the D-Day landings in Normandy. The success of that invasion meant that the Second World War was effectively over. It was just a matter of time. But it would still take another year and the loss of thousands more lives for the war to be officially over. But it didn’t mean that the war hadn’t been effectively won on D-Day. It’s the same now. The fact that people die today for standing up for love in the face of terror doesn’t mean that love doesn’t work; it means that their hope is in something more powerful, something bigger, something inevitable.

Love is the only thing that will eventually defeat terrorism. Just even writing that feels hopelessly naive and idealistic. But that is a reflection of how deeply our culture of violence has ingrained that belief in us. To believe in love is to swim against the tide. Jesus was seen by many as just another failed messiah when he was lifted onto a Roman cross. But if we believe, like those first Christians did, that that was not the end of the story, then we will have the courage to show love in the face of terror.

Jesus and women

Last month’s revelations of Donald Trump’s boasting and allegations of sexual assault have thrown up stories of the pain suffered by literally millions of women around the world. For followers of Jesus, it highlights the contrast of the fact that Jesus treated women with their full God-given dignity. Here’s my article from Christian Today on Jesus and women…

Jesus and women

The recent revelations of Donald Trump’s boasting and allegations of sexual assault have thrown up stories of the pain suffered by literally millions of women around the world. Despite many of the gains made in the last 100 years for women’s rights, it is clear that much still remains to be done.

Love is the greatest apologetic

Here is my latest article on Christian Today.

In a post-Christian Western world, traditional apologetics are way out of date. Jesus never used them either. His apologetic was love of God and neighbour, the greatest commandments.

Hope you get a lot out of this…

Love is the greatest apologetic

In post-Christian Australia, traditional Christian apologetics don’t get very far with a lot of people. 30 years ago, when I was still a fairly new believer, books like Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict were wonderful in helping to strengthen my faith. Today though, they don’t do a whole lot.

The longest day

Deployed service members reflect on  D-DayToday the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the beaches at Normandy in France. For Hitler’s army it signalled the beginning of the end. Many battles would still be fought and many lives lost. But, for all intents and purposes, the war was over.

The D-Day landings provide a wonderful analogy of the assurance and hope that the resurrection of Jesus provides. NT Wright, who provides this analogy, says that, just as D-Day was the beginning of the end of the war, so the resurrection was the same. Because of the resurrection, the new age of the reign of God had begun. Many battles and persecutions were still to take place, but the result was decided.

Injustice, war and corruption still mark the lives of millions of people the world over. The kingdom of God has not yet fully arrived. The warfare remains, but the war does not. The hope of the world is that love and justice wins in the end. In fact they have already won. And this hope is not a confident optimism. It is a hope based on fact – the fact of the resurrection.

The Letter to the Hebrews also highlights this “now and not yet” situation. The heroes of the faith persevered, even losing their lives, because they knew that better days were ahead.

For all the controversy a few years ago about Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, he is right about at least one thing: love does win; indeed it already has. The result is finalised and no correspondence will be entered into.

Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community in the US tells the wonderful story of a time during the South African apartheid years when Desmond Tutu was speaking at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, and heavily armed security forces were sent to intimidate Tutu and others. As the men with their weapons lined the inside walls of the church, Tutu, in his unique way, welcomed them and urged them to join the winning side. “How do I know we will win?” he asked. “Because I have read to the end of the book (the Bible), and we win.” A little man with huge courage, he knew what it was to have the sure hope of Christ in him.

Things are not as they seem. The world is still a mess; people still die, corruption still gets its way. But it will not stay this way. The wonderful words of Revelation 21:1-5 ring true throughout the universe, the universe whose moral arc bends towards justice, as that great man of peace, Martin Luther King, eloquently stated:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home[a] of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

On this commemoration of what was called the longest day, the day of the new world of transformation of everything is coming, and that will be the longest day of all.

Faith is a verb

Sojourners blog have just posted my article on the active nature of faith. It looks at the fact that faith and love are verbs in the gospels. We generally think they are about intellectual assent to a set of beliefs, but they are far from it.

True biblical theology is one of love – as a verb.

Hope on earth

Joseph and Mary at the wallDriving home tonight listening to the ABC’s Newsradio, I heard about more fighting in South Sudan. In a country that is only two years old, tens of thousands of people are fleeing for their lives to get away from the conflict.

As I listened, first I felt somewhat numb. More bad news is nothing new, but at Christmas time it just hit me a bit more than it would normally. As I listened to the radio report, I recalled an image that is being spread around on Facebook of Joseph and Mary, pregnant with the Christ child, traveling to Bethlehem, but being blocked by the dividing wall that separates Israelis from Palestinians in that strife-torn land.

We live in such a world of conflict, hatred and self-centredness. Although official statistics say that the amount of conflicts in the world has dropped in recent years, there are still millions of people displaced, starving and being forced to do things against their will. And most of it is because of man’s inhumanity to man. Continue reading

The quest for the divine…

Love is the greatest apologetic

In a postmodern world, and a post-Christian Australia, traditional Christian apologetics don’t get very far with a lot of people. 25 years ago when I was still a fairly new believer, books like Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict were wonderful in helping to strengthen my faith. Today though, they don’t do a whole lot. I still like to read apologetics, although I tend to gravitate towards the likes of N.T. Wright and others these days. I just find I don’t have much of an interest in works like McDowell’s. Many people would though, and if people are assisted in their faith and growth toward God, then I think that is wonderful.

I suspect though that more people like to see genuine expressions of Christian faith from believers who live their faith in all they do, people who want nothing more than to be Christlike. There is nothing like the life of Christ shining through his followers to get people thinking. This is always the best advertisement for God. Love is the greatest apologetic. One of the great insights I heard once was that Jesus had no need of an apologetic. People flocked to him; the common people heard him gladly. Jesus’ life was his apologetic, and he calls us to the same.

Back in those days in the mid to late 1980s, I was taught a number of things about Christian faith, from the Four Spiritual Laws to evidences for Jesus’ resurrection, to learning how to turn conversations around to the things of God. Today I believe that such thinking is quite dangerous and short-changes the gospel of Jesus. The Gospel is actually much bigger than that, as well as being much more accessible to the average Aussie in the street. Mark Sayers tells the story of when he was speaking once and explaining the story of God’s new creation through Jesus, how Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth and how Christian faith is not about going to heaven when we die. After Mark’s talk, a friend of his came to him and told how she was sitting next to a person who wasn’t a believer, and this person said “why hasn’t anyone told me about this before?” When Mark expressed the Gospel as it really is, it touched something deep inside this person.

Christian faith is ultimately about a story, and people love stories. They always have. That’s why Jesus told so many. He never actually defined the kingdom of God; in describing it, he always began with “it is like…” When we tell stories of the great things God is doing in the world, people listen. When we tell them of what Eden Parris calls rumours of hope, or what Philip Yancey calls rumours of another world, they begin to prick up their ears and listen.

Continue reading

Being born again is more than going to heaven

I had a read of Tom Wright’s John for Everyone this morning. I looked at John 3:1-13 which is the passage about being born again. As I read it and Wright’s explanation of it, the truth of what the good news really is dawned on me again. We don’t need to be born again so we will get into heaven when we die. Jesus didn’t come down from heaven to show us how we can get there with him. The good news is that, ultimately, heaven is coming here, and that has already started in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus coming down from heaven was the beginning of heaven coming here, the beginning of the new creation, of the new heavens and the new earth.

This passage has been among the most loved of Christians – particularly evangelical Christians – for years, and rightly so. John 3:3 is one of the verses you learn when you learn the four spiritual laws (something else which gives a twisted understanding of the Gospel).

I firmly believe in the need to be born again. After all, Jesus did say it, so we can’t just dismiss it. But we need to understand what Jesus really meant, and in what context he was saying it when he had his famous conversation with Nicodemus. Like everything when we read Scripture, we need to look at this passage in context. The whole context of Scripture is that it is a story, the story of God’s salvation plan, yes, but more than that, God’s redemption plan for not just humanity, but for the whole of the created order. Jesus said “Behold I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5, emphasis mine). And so it is in that sense that when Jesus talks about the need to be born again, he is talking about our need to be born of the Spirit of God to be able to do the works of God. This is what transformation is all about.

Continue reading

N.T. Wright on the resurrection and Simply Jesus

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-sXhgOroKQ

Here are a couple of great talks by N.T. Wright on Jesus’ resurrection and Wright’s recent book, Simply Jesus.

The talk on the resurrection is not just an apologetic going over the usual defences for the resurrection. In this talk Wright delves thoroughly into what the beliefs of the time were about what resurrection was and what it wasn’t. He provides a solid foundation for why the disciples and others respond as they do, and say what they say, when they hear the first reports that Jesus had been seen alive.

Context is everything when seeking to understand history, and Wright gives a detailed explanation of the background to the events we read about in the four gospels. For those who want it, further detail is found in Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Importantly, Wright also goes into why Jesus’ resurrection matters, why it quickly became central to the message of the early Christian movement, and why it matters in the 21st century.

For an overview of the reasons why the physical resurrection of Jesus is far and away the most reasonable explanation for the explosive growth of the early church, you probably couldn’t go past this talk. There is enough here to answer any questions, as well as enough to why your appetite for finding out more.

Of particular relevance to our time in this talk is Wright’s explanation about why Jesus’ resurrection says that Jesus is Lord and that therefore Caesar (or in our day, anything else that claims lordship over our lives) is not, anyhow that matters for mission.

The talk on Simply Jesus is among the best of Wright’s I have heard. It is a clear, succinct description of a wonderful book which is accessible to new believers, people wanting to find out more, or people who have been Christians for years and want a very clear overview of why Jesus matters in the 21st century.

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